By Sylvia Wanjira
As disturbing as it is, sexual harassment is a worldwide phenomenon that has continued to plague our societies for decades affecting people from all walks of life. The continuous evolution of the internet has brought forth a new phase of faceless sexual harassers who continue to taunt their victims every day.
Statistics from a report done by KICTANet show that as of January 2022, the internet populace in Kenya stood at 56.19 million users, 50.31 % of whom were female. Further, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women typically participate more than men on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
A survey conducted by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), found that 1 in every 3 women has been a victim of stalking as compared to 1 in every 6 men who also are victims. Women are thus more prone to sexual harassment in cyberspace. This article will look at the prevalence of sexual harassment against women in Kenyan cyberspace.
Recently, there has been a spike in the rates of sexual harassment in Kenyan cyberspace. Kenyans across all social media platforms have continued to shamelessly send or leak intimate images of social media personalities and even individuals whom they do not know or have a connection to and attack them with harsh words either by commenting on their bodies or by making chauvinistic and degrading comments.
This is despite the existence of several rights and laws that are meant to protect individuals. Such rights include the right to privacy as stated under Articles 10 and 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Convention on Civil and Political Rights respectively and further reiterated in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
It is important to note that in Kenya, sexual harassment is an offense punishable by law under section 23 of the Sexual Offences Act. The perpetrator is liable to a fine of not less than KSH. 100,000 or to a term of imprisonment of not less than 3 years.
The Act defines sexual harassment as incessant and unwanted sexual advances, physical or lewd gestures, and the request of sexual advances by a person in authority. However, this definition is somewhat limited. It fails to cater to the victims harassed by their peers or persons who are not in authority. The definition does not explicitly provide for harassment in cyberspace which has become a major hunting ground for the perpetrators. It focuses more on the persons holding a public office.
What happens to those who are harassed on social media networks? Will the perpetrators be held liable under section 23 of the SOA? A closer look at further legislation does not offer a solution.
The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, 2018, provides for cyber harassment under section 27. It states that the communication of individuals or groups either directly or indirectly regarding a person known to them is an offense if they are aware that their conduct is detrimental to that person or is of an offensive nature either in part or in whole and eventually affects that person. Although sexual harassment in the cyber world can be inferred from the above section it is not safe to rely on ambiguous laws.
As a result, there is a need to broaden the definition of sexual harassment to cater to all victims regardless of the context in which the harassment occurred. This can be achieved by amending the Sexual Offences Act to include sexual harassment done by peers in cyberspace. The amendment will help in providing a legal basis for victims to report cases of sexual harassment and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Additionally, there is a need for awareness and campaigns to educate the masses on the various forms of sexual harassment and the legal recourse available to them. By doing so, victims are empowered to speak up and seek justice.
Sexual harassment has long been a prevalent issue in society, and it is vital that it is taken seriously and addressed in all its forms. It is not just limited to physical and verbal forms of abuse but also includes harassment in cyberspace. The anonymity offered by the internet often emboldens individuals and other perpetrators to engage in such behaviour.
Therefore, it is important for individuals to take proactive measures to ensure their safety online and to be careful with what they share with others online. In the case where they encounter sexual harassment on the platforms, they should immediately report it to the ODPC and the DCI who will promptly investigate the matter.
Regardless of whether sexual harassment takes place in the real world or in cyberspace, it should be illegal and the law should step up not only to punish those liable but to also protect those who are vulnerable.
Ms Sylvia Wanjira is a committed and creative LLB candidate who is enthusiastic about advancing women’s rights in cyberspace. She is interested in new possibilities to learn and grow in the digital space. She has experience in legal research, writing and drafting legal documents.